Oman Trip Highlights

Oman is an interesting country. It benefited from the same oil wealth as the UAE, but the effects are much more subdued. Sometimes when I’m out an about in Abu Dhabi, the green and the uber modern towers makes it difficult to remember that I’m living in the desert, the dusty sky the only reminder. The desert was evident everywhere in Muscat, in the dry climate fauna, the mountainous terrain running along the sides of the roads. When I get the chance, I’d love to explore the less developed areas more.

I didn’t want to take too many taxi trips while I was in Muscat, since it was pretty expensive and the taxis don’t have meters. You have to negotiate with the driver every time you want to go somewhere, which means a lot of chances to get ripped off. At the airport you don’t really have a choice, but they have a stand in which all taxi fares are prepaid at a stand before you get on a taxi. Anyways, this is how I ended up using the Big Bus Tour.

I wasn’t super impressed with it, since I tried to order the tickets online to save 15%, but for some reason they weren’t able to issue me a ticket and had to cancel my order. Still, it was $50 for unlimited travel on their route for the day, and it ended up saving me some money getting back to the airport because I got off at a stop closer to the airport. Also, there was NO ONE on the buses! There might have been a time or two when there was two other people on the bus, but that was it. Mostly I had the bus all to myself.

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The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque had closed for tourists by the time I left the airport, but I still managed to get a shot of it. Opening for non-musims are 8am-11am excluding Fridays. Ladies, cover up that hair (and everywhere else for that matter) and men should wear long sleeves and pants.

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The Mutrah Souk is pretty much the same as all the other Middle Eastern souqs I’ve been to, minus all the people. All the shopkeepers were pretty desperate to sell, but I already have enough scarves and trinkets.

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This fort was right above the souk. You can see this kind of fort dotting the mountainous ranges all around Muscat.

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The Muscat Royal Opera House was quite impressive, and hints at the money that oil has brought in. Wonder what the inside looks like?

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There was a stop at the financial district of Muscat, and I thought I might get a bite to eat here. I got off and this was what I saw. Wandered around (it was 110 degrees!) looking for food and didn’t find much of anything at all.

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At least I found this clock tower that was supposed to be one of the sights to see in Muscat. Not really impressed. Would not recommend stopping off here.

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Green in the desert! And not the carefully cultivated kind of the UAE either.

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I joined a tour (provided by Big Bus) of the Sultan’s palace and its surroundings. The tour guide was a local Omani who lived nearby, and basically we walked around while he gave me an overview of Omani history and architecture, although he was much more interested in asking me questions about the United States then he was in the history of the Sultan’s palace and the surrounding forts. It was really really hot by then, and I was seeing spots at the end of the tour.

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I’m really starting to see the headscarf as a necessity. Halfway through our tour, both me and my guide had donned headscarves (he’s a man) to protect our heads against the searing heat.

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Dates are often found in the Middle Eastern diet. These ones are kimri, or unripe, and I’m told that it tastes disgusting.

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Rabbit sponge, signing off!

Color Run Abu Dhabi: The Happiest 5k on Earth!

I had a blast at the Color Run in Abu Dhabi today, so I wanted to share the fun!

What is the Color Run about? It’s all about having fun with friends and family, while giving back to the community. There’s an entry fee ($38 for the one I went to) and $1 for every person entered is donated to a local charity. You get a race pack including a Color Run T-shirt, headband, and tattoo included with the price. The point of the Color Run is to have fun and get colorful. You don’t have to run if you don’t want to, which is great for me, because I HATE running.

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Before pictures! Look how clean and white our shirts are…

The Color Run in Abu Dhabi was held at the Yas Marina Circuit, also used for the F1. When it’s not being used for racing events, it’s also open to runners on Tuesdays.

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Loved her wig!


About 7000 people showed up for the color run, so we had to be let out in groups of 1000. Some people went all out and dressed up. I can’t tell you how many big hairy guys I saw in tutus…

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What’s cooler than a camera drone?!

Below is a progression of pictures as I get more and more colorful, thanks to the very helpful people at the various color stations we encountered every 15-20 minutes. People were going crazy, throwing fistful of the colorful (and harmless) powders at everyone around them. Bit of advice, if you’re going to do this run, ziploc your camera, or it’s gonna end up with colored powder in it.

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Had so much fun throwing powder at Tim’s face! It looked so cool that people actually stopped to tell him how much they liked his face. He did a pretty good job getting me too. I only wish I could look like that every day; would save so much time on makeup!

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Finish Festival!

The Finish Festival at the end was pretty cool too. We got free t-shirts (after we liked them on Facebook) and a souvenir picture to commemorate our colorfulness. An Emirati reporter wearing an obviously expensive and completely white dishdasha stopped by to interview some runners and it was hilarious watching his discomfort as he watched a crowd of super colorful people passed by. I’m sure everyone was thinking the same thing: let’s throw some at him!

Unfortunately we missed out on the color throwing part because we couldn’t find where to buy the color packets. Oh well…we can do that next time! I hear their next stop is Shanghai…


Day Trip to Bahrain

So I had to make a day trip to Bahrain, a tiny Middle Eastern country one-hour away from the UAE. It’s known as the Vegas of the Middle East (although much much more conservative), and many Saudis and expats living in conservative Muslim countries visit to get away from the restrictions of their own country.

Bahrain offers Visa on Arrival for Americans (and many other nationalites); all you have to do is pay 5 dinar at customs and you get a two week visa. Before I left for Bahrain, I was advised to fill in the entry form completely, or I’d have issues at customs. If it’s your first time visiting Bahrain with your valid passport, you’ll have to wait awhile while they do a check; I was assured that the next time I visited I’d go straight through.

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Mandatory pre-travel airport selfie!

The Bahrain dinar is tied to the American dollar, at 1 dinar to 2.65 dollars.  I’m much more used to money that’s smaller than the American dollar, and as a result, struggled with realizing that almost everything in Bahrain is expensive.

By the way, the Bahrain International Airport is really boring, with few shops and places to eat. If you happen to be heading to a gate downstairs, just know that you’re not getting back up.

Upon exiting customs was to get some cash at the ATM, as I was planning to take taxis and visit the souk. I had an inkling that this was a place where people spend big money when I was greeted with the options of withdrawing 50-500 dinars. Five hundred dinars is $1326! I felt very poor indeed when I picked “other amount” and withdrew 40 dinars.

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Half Bahrain dinar bill, worth $1.33

First thing I noticed after leaving the airport was that the taxi drivers appeared to be local, which never happens in the UAE. All taxi drivers in the UAE are from neighboring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India; you almost never see the Emiratis working customer service. I assume Bahrain’s taxi drivers are local because it’s good money; it was about $30 to travel from the airport to the city center, and it was a short trip. There’s a 1 BD charge for trips leaving and going to the airport, and they also charge you 1 BD for a “waiting taxi”; when I was leaving the mall to get back to the airport, all the available taxis were waiting in the parking lot rather than at the entrance of the mall in order to levy this extra fee. Sneaky!

Originally I’d planned to spend some time at the souk (Arabic for market), but I’d forgotten that many stores close for a few hours around noon. It’s like an afternoon siesta where the locals go take a nap and rest while the sun is at its hottest. So I wandered around for a bit, looking at the shop windows and wondering whether I should wait an hour for it to open.

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I ended up leaving because I was getting stared at and men were whispering sexual innuendos as I passed. Traveling alone as a non-Muslim woman in the Middle East, it’s just something you have to get used to. A lot of men in the area equate not being covered from head to toe to as a sign that you’re loose, or worse, a prostitute. On the plus side, no one ever tries to touch me.

I decided to go to a nearby mall to grab some coffee and a bite to eat. I admired the architecture along the way; it’s so strange to think that all this is in the middle of a lot of sand.

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Beautiful view of the coast.

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I’ve always wondered how they keep things so green.

The Seef Mall is just like any other mall I’ve seen in the Middle East, with lots of coffee shops and kid-friendly facilities. What’s surprised me were the prices; something were very cheap ($1 vitamins) and some were outrageously expensive. I walked into a gourmet popsicle shop, and got a tiramisu pop dipped in chocolate (it’s as good as it sounds). I didn’t see any prices, but I thought, how expensive can a popsicle be? it was $6. SIX DOLLARS FOR A POPSICLE!

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Starbucks is fancy here.

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Ridiculously expensive popsicle shop. Have to say, it was gooooood. If it weren’t $6 apiece, I’d probably have 4.

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I’m not sure who decided that giant animal cars for children are a great idea in the confined spaces of a mall. I almost got run over…twice!

Before I finish off this post, I have to recommend this awesome organic burger place, Elevation Burger. The beef patty was juicy and the fries were made from olive oil. Almost as good as Shake Shack but probably a lot healthier. On a side note, a Saudi Arabian family of about 10 people came in, and bought about $270 worth of burgers and fries. Just saying, I’ve never seen so much money spent on fast food!

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Just looking at it makes me hungry…

That’s it for Bahrain! Next time I hope to see the Tree of Life and maybe the souk when it’s open. Let me know if you know any good places!

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A peek into Emirati culture: The Qasr al Hosn Festival

I frequently forget that I’m living in the Middle East. I’m surrounded by familiar brands and foods, with all the comforts of Western living. Of the 2.33 million people living in Abu Dhabi, only 475,000 are Emiratis; the rest are workers from all around Asia, and a large Western expat community.

It’s events like the Qasr al Hosn Festival that remind me of where I am. There aren’t many times where you can see so many locals together in one place; the Emiratis are really supportive of their culture. It’s also a rare opportunity to freely take pictures of the locals; usually you have to get express permission, especially of their women.

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“Qasr al Hosn represents the foundation of the nation’s capital and symbolizes more than two and a half centuries of Emirati heritage and cultural development.”

A lot of the outdoor events here are held later in the afternoon and close way later than we’d be used to, to make sure that no one is getting cooked under the sun. The Qasr al Hosn Festival opens at 4pm and ends at 11pm; even the kids stay up late! One thing I didn’t understand was the 10 dhs ($2.70) entrance fee. It’s too little to cover any sort of expense such an extravagant affair, and they definitely weren’t looking to make any money.

The Qasr al Hosn area is closed off the rest of year, so although it was in a location I’m familiar with, I had no idea there was such a big fort there. There’s a guided tour every 10 minutes, but we decided to skip it as there were so many other things to see!

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Qasr al Hosn Fort

The workshop and activities area was split into three sections, desert, oasis and marine. They actually created a mini desert in the middle of the city; in fact, there was so much sand I had to stop every minute or so to empty the sand from my shoes. In the desert section were a variety of indigenous animals. They really went out of their way to get visitors to interact with the animals.

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Getting chummy with a camel!

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The saluki, a common Emirati hunting dog.

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The Emiratis love falcons, which is also the national bird of the UAE.

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I’m not sure what this bird is called, but my man called it a desert chicken”

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Probably not an Arabian horse, but still a beauty.

The marine section featured a mini manmade marina and showcased traditional skills like shipbuilding, fishnet making and pearl diving…with some modern touches of course.

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Only in the UAE can you find a manmade marina built just for a festival…

Pearl-diving was a major industry in Abu Dhabi before oil. After the Japanese started cultivating pearls, the pearl industry took a nosedive and never recovered. However, they’re now into the business of pearl cultivation in collaboration with (ironically) the Japanese. It takes two years for a pearl to form after inserting foreign tissue, and they have an 80% success rate.

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Tools of the trade

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Net worn around the neck while pearl diving

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Mr. Hamada hard at work cutting tissue out from a donor oyster.

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Transferring tissue with surgical precision to oysters that will be producing the pearl.

The festival offers workshops for adults and children, including traditional cooking, henna, making your own unique fragrance, making fishnets and more. You could literally spend all day there and still have things to do. It was also interesting to see the way things were done, and are still done in some of the emirates, before all that oil and money.

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Women working on embroidery.

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Man working on fishnets.

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Emirati men dancing. I hear that on National Day, you could get randomly pulled into one of these dancing circles. Not if you’re a woman, of course.





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Emirati soldiers.

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Traditional market, or souk, selling local arts and crafts

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Tim and an old school Land Rover. Someone important probably drove that car, because the license plate only has 3 numbers! These days, 3-digit licence plates can go for up to a million AED, or about $270,000!

Because we were too busy looking around, I only signed up for the henna workshop. Having done henna once before, I was interested in what goes into the process.

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This is the henna tree. The leaves are laid out to dry in the sun before it can be used.


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Next, you ground the leaves into smaller pieces.

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Then you rub the leaves through a fine cloth stretched over a bowl, resulting in a fine, green powder that kind of looks like matcha. After mixing the powder with dry lemon rinds for that brown color, it creates a dark brownish green paste.

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The paste is then applied to the skin. Traditionally it’s applied to the fingers and hands, and around the ankles for special occasions.

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The paste takes about half an hour to dry. After it’s dry, you just rub it off with a tissue and then rinse with water. Because I didn’t hold my palm flat the entire time (it’s hard!) round part kind of smeared into the rays, so it ended up looking like a spider. It’s already starting to fade, so I assume it doesn’t last as long as the new henna formulas.

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The henna I had done at the Central souk was from a tube, and was much darker in color. There are also black ones, but I’ve been told that it can burn skin and may contain carcinogens.

I really enjoyed the exhbition at the Festival, showcasing the oral history of Qasr al Hosn as well as the “Lest We Forget” project. This project brought together private photographs of people living in Abu Dhabi from 1958-1999. The pictures really brought home the fact that just 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was no different than any other desert. The discovery of oil turned everything upside down and changed the lives of all Emiratis.

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Lest we forget

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this insanely cool baby!

We were also asked to take part in the project by taking a picture to put up on the wall of the exhibition. It was a little awkward because we weren’t allowed to do the usual poses like putting our arms around each other; remember, PDA is a big no-no!

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Tim & Emily, Feb. 28, 2014

Last but not least, food! We only nibbled because we went after dinner; I admit, I was worried that they were going to make me eat things with my hands again.

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This is called “khameeh”, a type of Emirati bread with honey. The bread was warm and the honey good.

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Wish it was earlier so I could’ve had some qahwa!

Notice that the mineral water is only 2 AED ($0.54), even though this is one of those places where they could easily mark it up. Local water is 2 AED everywhere, even restaurants and movie theaters. We theorize this could be an actual law to prevent dehydration; this is, after all, the desert.

The Qasr al Hosn Festival ended today, but it’ll be back next year. This year we skipped the Cavalia horse show, and we didn’t get to see it during the day. I’m looking forward to doing more workshops next year and looking around that fort!


The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

You know how if you live in a certain place, you never get around to seeing the famous sights in the area? I know people who have lived in Beijing for their entire lives and never went around to see the Great Wall, and Californians who decided they don’t need to go to Disneyland. The Grand Mosque is kind of like that for me. I visited it as a tourist and was so enthralled that I vowed I would come see it again once I moved here. Didn’t happen. So far it’s been almost a year, and I pass by all the time, all the time promising myself that next time I’ll go see it.

The Grand Mosque, also known as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, was a vision of the late founder and of the UAE, and completed after his passing. Like most everything in the UAE, money was no object when it comes to making this beautiful piece of architecture; it cost 2 billion AED, or 545 million USD to build the Grand Mosque. Materials and designers were brought all over the world to help with the project.

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The Grand Mosque under the hot desert sun.

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The Grand Mosque at dusk.

Some people like to compare the Grand Mosque to the age-old ones in Turkey, and dismiss it for lacking history. I think the Grand Mosque is just as beautiful, with just as much care and reverence put into it as any of the older ones.

If you’re going to the Grand Mosque, don’t bother trying to cover every inch of your skin. If you’re a woman, they’re going to make you wear an abaya (traditional clothing for Emirati women) no matter what. For men, as long as you’re wearing long pants and shirts with sleeves, you don’t have to borrow a dish-dasha (traditional clothing for Emirati men). Ho strict is their dress code? Before you put on an abaya, they won’t even let you take a picture with the mosque.


Remember when Rihanna ruffled some feathers because she took some “provacative” pictures in the Grand Mosque?

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I wasn’t thrilled about having to wear an article of clothing that dozens of people have worn before me, but I do love how slimming it is!

We were assigned an Emirati tour guide who spoke perfect English to show us around the Grand Mosque. He gave us a lot of interesting information about the symbolism and designs of the mosque, as well as about their religion. I learned that the call to prayer plays five times a day, at different times every day depending on when the sun sets. I’ve since gotten so used to it that I barely hear it anymore, but at the time I was woken up every morning at around 4am by the morning call. Even malls play it on their loudspeakers, and provide prayer rooms for shoppers to stop by. Don’t be surprised to find men and women washing their hands and feet in a public bathroom; they’re required to clean both before praying.

There are endless details that I could go on about, but my favorite are the domes. There are 82 domes in the mosque, each more intricate than the last.

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One day, I’m going to go back and take a picture of each and every one of those domes…

The inside of the mosque is awe-inspiring. Big enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers at once

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Flowers are featured everyone inside and outside the mosque.


The carpet inside the Grand Mosque is the largest in the world, and took 1,200 weavers 21 months to make. You’d definitely understand why they insist you take your shoes off before walking on it!


The 98 names of Allah, one in each 5-petaled flower. If you look closely though, you’ll notice a blank one. The guide informed us that as humans we can’t possibly presume to know all the ways of Allah, and so one flower is left blank.

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Another world record, the biggest chandelier in the world!

For everyone visiting the UAE, the Grand Mosque is definitely a must-see! Not only are the guided tours informative and interesting, it really gives you a glimpse into Emirati culture. Just going shopping at the various malls can’t give you that.

That’s it for the Grand Mosque! I’m going to the Qasr al Hosn Festival tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll have more to share soon!

The Dubai Mall

Yup, I’m gonna do an entire post on a mall! And what a mall it is; the Dubai Mall is currently the biggest mall in the world, with 1200 shops and still expanding! It’s the mall to end all malls, selling everything from solid gold iPhones to sleepy stuffed camels to Japanese linens. Almost everytime I go to Dubai I end up here, much to my boyfriend’s chagrin.

As part of our Valentine’s Day celebrations, we made our way up to Dubai to have a good meal and do some shopping. Just a heads up, some of the pictures are from different trips, so don’t be surprised if I’m wearing different outfits (no, I’m not one of those people who bring different outfits for pictures).

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Did I mention that the Dubai Mall is connected to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world?


There’s no shortage of froufrou things at the Dubai Mall!

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Always check out the cars parked in front…they’re a sight in themselves!

Before we get to eating and shopping though, some ground rules:


Keep your hands and lips to yourself!

A lot of people ignore the “respectful clothing” rule, and you’ll see short shorts and cleavage everywhere. Keep in mind that a lot of the locals to equate revealing clothing with whores (for women), so if you want to avoid uncomfortable comments and stares, it’s still best to keep to the conservative side.

ABSOLUTELY NO KISSING IALLOWED! Dubai is much more liberal than the rest of the emirates, but this is still an big no-no. As in you could be jailed for doing it. If you’re not married, refrain from holding hands, as a well-placed complaint could get you in trouble. Men should be careful to avoid physical contact with local women; simple gestures that we use to express friendliness could be interpreted very differently here.

We got to Dubai around 1pm, and we were famished. There are so many food options in the mall, ranging from the usual range of fast foods to five star restaurants. We settled on California Pizza Kitchen, as we had a great meal there in Hawaii.

It was very, very disappointing. The thing about eating out here is that familiar brands often end up very different than back home, and not in a good way. Nothing we ordered tasted good, never mind resembling the great dishes at the other CPK’s I’ve been to.


CPK Meat Craver pizza in North America. Not my picture, but I can attest that it does look like that.

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CPK Meat Craver pizza in Dubai. Ugh.Just look at all that congealed cheese and burnt meatballs!

Thankfully our dinner was much better, as we picked an old favorite: Shake Shack. For those of you who know Shake Shack, it started out in New York and blew up there. They make the most amazing (and greasy) cheeseburgers, as well as amazing custards and milkshakes. If you ever come across one of these, definitely stop by!

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Probably the fanciest Shake Shack in the world.

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Red Velvet Custard…just looking at this picture makes me drool.

The Dubai Mall is also home to another New York cult favorite, Magnolia Bakery. I stopped going to the one at the Dubai Mall because one opened up in Abu Dhabi, but anyone’s who’s not had one should stop by Bloomingdale’s for a taste. The cupcakes are to die for, with fluffy sugary icing that’s somehow not too sweet, and the banana pudding is thick and creamy without being too rich. Some people say the one in New York is better, but I can’t see how!

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Vanilla cupcake with vanilla icing. It really is a wonder I don’t weigh 500 pounds!

Another good place to eat is the Social House, which is a Western and Eastern cusine fusion. There’s a good variety of food and drinks (non-alcoholic of course), and a great view of the Dubai fountain, the largest in the world. The fountain turns on every half hour; it really is quite a spectacular show, much better than the one in Vegas.

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The Dubai Fountain is really something else.Be prepared to fight with all the tourists around you if you want to film it though!

The Burj Khalifa is right next to the Dubai Fountain, but it’s only accessible to tourists from the lower ground floor of the Dubai Mall. You should make an appointment to visit the Burj Khalifa well in advance of your trip, as it’s the difference between 125 AED ($34) and 400 AED ($109) for immediate entry (click here for more information). It’s worth it if you have a great camera and want to get some pictures of Dubai. I’m personally a sucker for panoramic city views, and I’m planning to go up there in April to check out the sunrise.


The tallest building in the world, and the best place to get a full view of Dubai!

If you have children, there’s also tons of things for them to do. The UAE is children-friendly in general, with a great focus on family and kids. The Dubai Mall has a huge indoor aquarium, one of the world’s largest suspended ones (yet another record broken), offering cage snorkeling, glass bottom boats, and other interactive activities.

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I really need a better camera to capture the aquarium’s beauty. This picture doesn’t do it justice.

Right across from the aquarium is the Cheesecake Factory, and a huge candy store guaranteed to make any kid (and me) scream. Everything in the store is over the top: giant swirly lollipops, the world’s largest chocolate bar and wall to wall to wall of different colored m&ms.

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Just looking at it will give you a sugar rush…

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There’s the Asian eyes again…

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The Waterfall is yet another extravagant water feature in the Dubai Mall, expanding all four floors of the mall and is known for it’s beauty. It was designed to be a meeting point for visitors, and has a variety of coffee shops surrounding it.

Now on to my favorite part, shopping! We visited the Dubai Mall at the end of the Spring Festival in China, and there were still many promotions and advertisements geared towards Chinese tourists. It’s a sign of how much their revenue depends on Chinese visitors, that every single store accepts UnionPay (the Chinese version of Visa and Mastercard), and all high-end brands have at least one sales assistant who speaks Chinese.

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A sign that Chinese tourists are taking over the world…

If you’re looking for souvenirs to bring home, the Dubai Mall even has a souk, a traditional Arabic market. It’s definitely not the best place for deals and heavy bargaining, but it has everything you’ll find in a souk elsewhere.


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The Souk

The Dubai Mall is also home to one of my favorite bookstores, Kinokuniya. I have a Kindle Paperwhite, but it doesn’t diminish my love for actual paper. It’s not that easy to find a good selection of books in the UAE, and Kinokuniya is one of the few bookstores that sell more books than stationary. Other than English books, they also have books in a variety of languages.

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There are Kinokuniyas all over the world, but this is the biggest I’ve seen.

For all the fashionistas and beauty junkies out there, this place is heaven. There’s a shoe garden of stores devoted to shoes, a gigantic Sephora, hard to find brands from all over the world. If only I had the money…

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The Shoe Garden…and a giant flower chair I found in the middle of it!

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Not as big as the one in New York, but you’ll definitely find some products unique to the Middle East!

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Repetto is pretty hard to find in the US. If only I had a spare $300 to spend on a pair of ballet flats…


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You can find Laduree macaroons outside of France here in Dubai!

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Souvenir from al Gallery…LMAO

That’s it for the Dubai Mall. I’ll post more on the Middle East soon, so keep coming back!




Five things that baffle me about China

I’m Chinese, and before I went to China I thought that even though I don’t agree with everything they do, I’d at least understand why. Obviously, I was wrong. Below I’ll share with you 5 things that Chinese people do that completely baffle me.

1. Chinese people are extremely anxious about their children. In the winter, you’ll often see Chinese children wrapped up in so many layers that they look like large puffy balls (they’re convinced that the cold will make them sick). Loved pets are often abandoned for fear that they’ll pass on diseases to their children. Thrifty parents will not hesitate to buy the most expensive milk powder for their babies. And yet, you’ll often see mothers jaywalk across a busy intersection with their child in their arms. Does that make sense to you?

2. People in China will spend two month’s salary on a new cell phone, but argue with a vendor for an hour over 10 yuan. They’ll save for a luxury bag, and then ride the bus to work to save on transportation costs (trust me, the bus is not a pleasant way to commute during rush hour). When they go home for Spring Festival, they’ll blow a month’s salary treating their relatives and friends to a meal, then go home and eat instant noodles for a month. The Chinese call this “slapping the face to look fat” (打肿脸充胖子). I always knew that face was important to them, but can it really mean that much?

3. They think that cheating is ok, even a smart thing to do. I was shocked when my students freely admitted that they cheated while in school, claiming it was “something that everyone does”. One explained to me that because everyone did it, you’d be at a disadvantage if you didn’t.

4. When I first started working in China as an English Teacher, I was uncomfortable with the “pretty” compliments. Coworkers would tell me that I will do well because I was “pretty” and the boss “likes” pretty girls. Students told me that I would be a great teacher because I was “pretty”. Sexual harassment was pretty much expected and accepted in the workplace; my boss would comment whenever any member of the female staff wore skirts.The boss often made very sexist comments towards the female staff, and pressured them to go out for lunch or dinner. Chinese friends were surprised that I would consider that kind of behavior sexual harassment, and thought it to be just how things worked. It’s pretty much accepted that a beautiful girl would have more opportunities in the workplace.

5. Women are expected to be “weak”, and they seem more than happy to fulfill that role. Despite the fact that a lot of women work, and some even command a higher salary then their men, women are still expected to be the weaker sex. If they earn more, they’re encouraged to keep it under wraps for the sake of the man’s ego. If they’re taller, they’re forbidden to wear heels to de-emphasize their height difference. Mind you, many of them take full advantage, taking time off because they have menstrual cramps (they realize this happens every month, right?), having male coworkers do work for them, and even going out to lunch with men so they can eat for free (splitting the bill isn’t common in China). I’m surprised both at the women for accepting this notion, and at the men for enabling it.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, so keep an eye out for updates! Also feel free to share anything you’ve noticed ^^

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐!

Xin nian kuai le! Happy new year!


2014 is the year of the horse (马, ma)

My family celebrated this holiday while I was growing up, but it was limited to family and the occasional lion dance in Chinatown. To be honest, all I cared about was how much lucky money I was going to get. Celebrating Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, in China is a whole new ballgame. The scale of it is mind-boggling! The entire country moves around so they can be home with their families, and everywhere you go is adorned with red and gold and everything that symbolizes luck and prosperity.

So here’s a post on some interesting Chinese New Year tidbits that I noticed while I was living in China.

1. Lucky…everything


If you were born in the year of the horse, it’s recommended that you spend the new year’s festivities in red undies!

Almost everything done during New Year’s is meant to bring good fortune for the new year. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve is meant to ward away evil spirits and bad luck. Around the time of the Spring Festival, firework stands pop up everywhere. The safety standards are pretty lack; both customers and merchants can be seen smoking at, in and around the fireworks. And you wonder why there are so many accidents…


Beijing on New Year’s Eve! You really don’t have to go anywhere in particular to enjoy the fireworks…

Another issue with fireworks is the effect on the already unbreathable air. The day after New Year’s Eve, the PM 2.5 is usually at least 5 to 6 times higher than recommended levels. Firework debris also litters the street (I sprained my ankle after slipping on some two years ago), not to mention the noise pollution for two weeks straight.

Fish is eaten because it sounds like “leftover” in Chinese (年年有于, nian nian you yu), and is meant to represent that you will have leftover money in the coming year. Dumplings are eaten because they look like they gold or silver nuggets (元宝,yuan bao) back in the day, and if you find money in yours, you’ll be especially lucky that year. If it’s your animal year, it means the gods have their eye on you, and you need to wear red underwear to avoid their wrath (at least I think that’s what it does).

2. Ghost towns

One distintictive feature of Chinese New Year’s is that the major cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) become completely deserted, as everyone returns to their hometowns. The usually crowded streets are oddly empty, and it’s the only time of year where you can actually drive above 40 km/hr. The downside? Most of the staff in a lot of service industries (restaurants, postal services, government facilities) have gone home, so expect delays and closures.


It only ever looks like this during the Spring Festival…

3. Red envelopes (or red packets or lucky money)


Counting the money in front of the giver is a big no-no!

In northern China, red envelopes are given to the younger generations until they start working (parents to children, aunts to nieces/nephews, grandparents to grandchildren etc.) Once they have a job, they are now obligated to give red envelopes to their elders (parents and grandparents) and the generation below them.

In southern China, red envelopes are given to the younger generations until they get married. Once you get married, you not only have to give out red envelopes to your elders, but also to unmarried people in your own generation. For example, my mom (who’s from Taiwan) gave a red envelope to her younger sister until she was 36, which was the year she got married. It had only $20 on it, but it’s supposed to be like a “good luck, I hope you get married this year.” I still get red envelopes if I spend Chinese New Year’s with my parents or relatives, even though I’m 26 and have been working for over 4 years.

In recent years, there’s been a lot of negative attention on red envelopes, with people’s wallets being stretched to the limits with the increasing amounts they’re obligated to give. Etiquette dictates that red envelopes should be somewhat equal, as they’re meant to symbolize luck and not as a way to earn money. This means if my aunt gives me $20, my parents should give my cousin $20 as well. Now, people use red envelopes as a way to show-off wealth, giving more than the receiving end can give back, causing stress, tension and embarrassment. Other issues with red envelopes can include the number of kids (if you have more kids, you get more red envelopes), who gave who more (grandparents playing favorites), and kids comparing who got more money. It really puts a damper on what is otherwise a festive holiday.

4. Food, food and more food!


If you think a lot of food goes to waste, you thought right…

If you didn’t gain weight during Chinese New Year, you didn’t do it right. This is a food holiday more than equal to the Christmas holidays of the west, with days and days of banquets. Often, people only go back to their hometown once a year, and once home they’re faced with the daunting task of eating (and drinking!) with every single relative and friend, as failing to share a meal with someone can be seen as a slight. For some people, this has become a very stressful (both financially and physically) part of the holidays.

5. When are you getting married?

Many of my Chinese friends fear going home during the Spring Festival, and a lot of has to do with the inevitable questions that every single person back home will ask. If you’re single, when are you getting married? Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? You don’t want to get married too late, or no man will want you!  If you’re married, when are you having kids? How many? Don’t make your parents wait too long for grandchildren! If you’re working, how much do you make? When will you get a promotion? What are your career plans? It’s enough to drive everyone crazy.

6. “Gong hay fat choi” VS “Gong xi fa cai”

I’m really tired of people saying “gong hay fat choi” like it means “Happy New Year!” because it actually means “Congratulations on getting rich!”. It’s a way to wish someone good fortune in the new year. “Gong hay fat choi” is also Cantonese, and you would only greet someone with that in Canton or Hong Kong. “Gong xi fa cai” is Mandarin, and would be used in regions where Mandarin is widely used.

This year I spent Chinese New Year in the UAE, and was surprised by how many year of the horse products I found. It seems like the world has adopted this Chinese holiday, which makes me hopeful that one day I can celebrate with my kids, no matter where I end up in the world!

How to Survive a Long Flight

Last year I took a 15-hour flight with United from Beijing to Washington D.C. As you can imagine, it was not fun. The seats were small and cramped, the aisles so narrow that you couldn’t get to the bathroom without bumping into a person or two. They only allow one checked bag for free, so the overhead bins were overflowing with large carry-ons and duty-free purchases. I sat next to an elderly lady who played Sudoku the entire time, all the while muttering “6…6…6…5…5”. All but one of the flight attendants only spoke English, which isn’t usually a problem for me, but on this flight I ended up having to translate for most of the Chinese passengers sitting around me (not cool). They brought around water exactly three times (once every 5 hours!), and the food sucked.

But I survived. And I want to help you survive too.

Before the flight:

1. Lay off the coffee- The extra perk you get isn’t worth the chapped lips and dry throat on the plane. Besides, you want to sleep as much as possible, right?

2. Wear comfortable clothes– And that includes underwear! No thongs! You don’t want to be the girl (or guy) who’s lifting their ass up every few minutes to undo their super wedgie. I always bring out my Lululemon yoga pants for long flights, despite all the protests that yoga pants should only be worn when doing yoga. Free upgrades are super rare now, so no reason to dress up for that either. My feet swell a lot, so I usually wear shoes half a size to one size bigger than normal on flights.

3. Go au naturel- This means no makeup, no contacts, no hair gel. Makeup will turn dry and cakey after a few hours on the plane (just look at the flight attendants), and your eyeballs will dry up and get super irritated if you wear contacts. Hair gel ends up looking like dandruff. Super gross.

4. Plan your sleep schedule- If you’re arriving at your destination in the morning, you should try to get as much sleep as possible, with aid from medication if necessary. If you’re arriving at night, make sure not to sleep too much on the plane (I find three hours to be more than enough to keep me refreshed). This is the best way to get over jet lag quickly or skip it altogether.

5. Book an aisle seat online- Yes, aisle seats can be annoying, but it’s not as annoying as hesitating to go to the bathroom because the person next to you is asleep. Not drinking water is not an option either; you’ll be a wreck when you land.

What to bring on the plane:

1. Throw/blanket- The airplanes ones are always flimsy, and more often than not, grimy. And with the planes getting fuller, there’s often a shortage. It sucks to be cold on a long flight, so this is a must.

2. Eye mask- You’ll need one in case the person next to you decides to read. Darkness also helps you stay in deep sleep longer.

3. A good airplane pillow- And not those soft donuts they sell at the airport convenience stores. Those have poor support for the neck, and when your chin inevitably droops to your chest, you’ll wake up to killer neck pain. I found this super awesome pillow at Osim that ties around the neck and supports the chin so the head doesn’t move at all. The downside is, it only fits women and not men (unless you happen to have one of those super skinny giraffe necks).


My plane blanket, neck pillow, and self-heating eye masks.

4. Skincare/personal hygiene products- Yup, even men need moisturizer on planes; no one likes to have dry, flaky skin. A small tub of Vaseline will take care of most of your needs on a plane. If you don’t want to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste, at least bring a little bottle of mouthwash. For more tips, check out my post on Airplane Beauty.

5. An e-reader- I was one of those die-hard “paper is better” advocates until recently, when I moved to a place where good English books are relatively rare. I’m also a pretty fast reader, and for a 15-hour flight I’d need to bring at least three books to keep me occupied. So on my last trip back to the states, I got a Kindle Paperwhite. It’s smaller and lighter than an iPad, and doesn’t have that harsh backlight that makes your eyes hurt after a while. This is nice to have on the plane, both for variety (sometimes you just don’t feel like reading what you brought) and for the fact that you don’t have to be that annoying guy with the reading light on while everyone else is trying to sleep.

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My new best friend! It’s almost like reading paper…

6. An empty water bottle-I used to just buy a bottle of water after I’ve passed security and bring it on the plane with me, but more and more airports are starting to set up security right before you enter the gate. Depending on the airport, you may or may not be allowed to bring a water bottle in. Why do you need to have your own water? Don’t planes provide water? Yes, but you really want to be dependent on flight attendants bringing around water for your hydration needs, and besides, what about wasting all those plastic cups? I like to have some water on me so I can drink whenever I’m thirsty, and not have to wait for someone to bring it.

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I got the Ecuo Can because it’s good for both cold and hot drinks, and completely leak-proof.

7. Good headphones/earphones- If you’re planning on watching movies, definitely bring your own. Those awful headphones provided on the planes cause headaches and doesn’t fit anyone’s head properly. You can find those double-prong connectors at most music specialty stores.

8. Bring a soft carry-on case- Because of all the check-in restrictions and no limitations of duty-free shopping, the overhead bins are almost always overflowing. If you have a hard case with nowhere to put it, it’s a pain for the flight attendants and everyone involved. With a soft case, you can keep it under your seat and have everything you need nearby.

9. Snacks- Is it just me, or is airplane food getting worse? While some airlines provide pretty good fare, some airplane meals are just inedible. Rather than risk a stomachache later on, it’s a good idea to bring some snacks in case you want to pass on whatever mush they’re serving you.

10. Warm socks- Some airlines (like Etihad and Cathay Pacific) provide little bags with amenities like toothbrushes, eye masks and socks. For everyone else, it’s a good idea to bring your own socks so you don’t have to keep your shoes on to stay warm.

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My panda airplane socks lol

11. Aromatherapy oils: Ok, I admit, this one is a little weird. But who hasn’t sat next to someone with horrible breath? Or sat in front of a person with smelly feet and decided to take off their shoes? And oh god, if the person hasn’t washed their hair in a while…(excuse me while I throw up). I usually bring some with me to dab under my nose in case something like that happens, which is quite often. Also, the smell of lavender will also help you sleep. Make sure to put the oil in an opaque glass bottle with a volume of less than 100mL; aromatherapy oils are expensive, and you don’t want TSA confiscating it. For the manly men, if aromatherapy oils are too girly for you, vaporub works just as well!

After the flight:

It’s always better if you can arrange for the day you land to be free of any and all obligations. Even if you’re on vacation and eager to get started, it’s best to get rested so that you’re not haunted by fatigue for the rest of the trip. Getting over jet lag should be your first priority, the Eiffel Tower will still be there tomorrow!

That’s all I can think of for now, I’ll update if I think of anything else!

World Hopping 2013: A year in pictures

It’s 2014, and I’m looking forward to some downtime before traveling again. New places and new experiences are great, but there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed!

While going over some pictures, I saw just how amazing 2013 was for me. Last year, I traveled to nine different countries on three different continents. I got to see my mother in Vancouver, celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday in Shanghai, and moved to the Middle East to be with the love of my life. I turned 26 in Hong Kong, spent Christmas in Thailand and rang in the new year in Bali with friends. Life was good. Life IS good.

20 different airports later, and it’s 2014. I will always remember this year as the year I realized that I am a traveler. I love traveling. I want to travel, and I will always keep traveling. Hope you’lll all be around to share with!

January 2014

DC January 2013

 Counting down in DC!

February 2013

Photo Feb 11, 4 51 44 PM

Spending Chinese New Year (and freezing my ass off!) with my grandmother in Suzhou

Photo Feb 14, 2 17 25 PM

Meeting the newest member of the family, Doudou in Shanghai(豆豆,meaning “little bean” in Chinese)

March 2013

Photo Mar 09, 1 55 42 PM

Grandma’s 80th birthday in Shanghai! This is called a birthday peach (寿桃, shoutao), and symbolizes longevity

Photo Mar 09, 2 59 11 PM

Inside is 99 little peaches; 9 in Chinese sounds like “long” and symbolizes long life.

Photo Mar 21, 7 16 06 AM

Scaling the Great Wall after a snowstorm…not the greatest idea.

Photo Mar 16, 7 16 27 PM Photo Mar 16, 7 15 17 PM

My good-bye party. Byebye Beijing!

April 2013

Photo Apr 01, 3 44 23 PM

Celebrating Easter with my bunny in Abu Dhabi!

Photo Apr 18, 4 59 21 PMPhoto Apr 06, 3 04 14 PM

 Adjusting to pink limos and the forbidden pork…

May 2013

Photo May 04, 7 32 20 PM Photo May 05, 11 47 38 AM

Fell in love with Istanbul

Photo May 08, 5 28 26 AM Photo May 17, 12 15 31 PM

 Enjoying the thermal pools at Pammukkale

Photo May 06, 4 58 59 PM

Taking a dip in Cleopatra’s Pool

June 2013

Photo Jun 15, 4 08 18 PM

Amazing meal at Armani Ristorante in Dubai

Photo Jun 15, 4 08 00 PM Photo Jun 15, 9 46 54 AM

 On top of the world at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

July 2013

Photo Jul 16, 4 03 42 AM

First henna experience at the Central Souk in Abu Dhabi

Photo Jul 10, 12 37 20 AM Photo Aug 01, 4 39 32 AM

July 2013: Visiting my mom in Vancouver, my hometown.

Photo Jul 31, 2 44 27 AM

Isn’t Vancouver beautiful?

Photo Jul 28, 4 18 04 AM Photo Jul 28, 4 15 56 AM

Visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge with Tim!

August 2013

Photo Aug 10, 5 32 55 PM

Taking a walk on Lanikai Beach in Hawaii

Photo Aug 06, 5 52 27 PM

View from Pali Lookout in Oahu.

September 2013

Photo Aug 30, 5 29 19 PM

Ok, I admit, the most exciting thing that happened to me this month was that Magnolia Bakery opened in my city

October 2013

Photo Oct 11, 5 54 07 PM Photo Oct 12, 4 44 32 PM

Throughly enjoying my first foray into Europe, Prague!

Photo Oct 13, 4 58 11 PM

Beautiful view of the Charles Bridge

Photo Oct 14, 1 50 15 PM

Posing in a panda hat that somehow makes Czech women look sexy, and me look immature…

Photo Oct 15, 9 18 51 PM

Learning about Princess Sisi in Vienna

Photo Oct 15, 5 04 01 PM

Ferris wheel that survived WWII

November 2013

Photo Nov 01, 10 48 38 PM

Celebrating our two year anniversary in Abu Dhabi

Photo Nov 11, 2 55 24 PM Photo Nov 11, 3 29 49 PM

Celebrating my birthday by myself (*sniff) in Hong Kong…but don’t feel too sorry for me, my birthday dinner was at the most amazing Cantonese restaurant!

Photo Nov 15, 11 17 31 AM

The Water Cube in Beijing. Remember Michael Phelps in 2008?

Photo Nov 15, 11 42 31 AM

I lived in Beijing for three years, and this is the first time I’ve ever visited the Bird’s Nest

Photo Nov 15, 11 52 08 AM

Wonder if it’s been full since the Olympics?

December 2013

Photo Dec 02, 8 43 28 PM

Celebrating my little sister’s eight birthday in Shanghai


Photo Dec 05, 5 59 36 AM

Staying at a beautiful hotel on the bund…too bad it was too smoggy to actually see the bund…

Photo Dec 05, 10 52 38 AM

Starbucks, Chinese-style!

Photo Dec 05, 2 11 42 PM

Taking a walk by the Shanghai bund

Photo Dec 07, 6 09 03 AM Photo Dec 07, 6 36 34 AM

Pigeon Slangin’ in Chengdu

Photo Dec 10, 3 26 19 PM Photo Dec 10, 5 12 07 PM

Celebrating Paris’ 27th at ABC cooking studio in Beijing

Photo Dec 10, 12 55 37 PM

I made this!

Photo Dec 22, 1 37 40 PM

Petting tigers at Tiger Kingdom in Phuket

Photo Dec 23, 7 21 09 AM

Feeding elephants in Phuket

Photo Dec 22, 7 51 36 PM

Posing with men prettier than me…

Photo Dec 24, 1 17 59 PM Photo Dec 24, 1 17 34 PM

Standing in the aquamarine waters of Ko Phi Phi

Photo Dec 25, 2 44 34 PM Photo Dec 25, 2 50 21 PM

Celebrating Christmas in Bangkok…stuffed Christmas tree anyone?

Photo Jan 01, 8 58 58 PM  IMG_0885

Chasing sunsets in Bali

Photo Dec 31, 6 57 53 PM

Welcoming the new year with friends in Bali!

And that was my year! Fingers-crossed that this year will be better than the last ^_^